Jul 12, 2018

How to Bring Digital Transformation to Education

by Digital Marketing Institute

The rapid evolution of digital is having a significant impact on corporate industries and is serving to provide exciting new opportunities, maximize efficiencies, increase collaboration and reduce costs.

As the educational sector becomes more competitive, digital transformation is now becoming a necessary means of survival as this new digital world requires educators to adapt and adopt digital technologies, methodologies and mindsets.

Educators at a grade or compulsory educational level have embraced technology, with a rise in US Title 1 school funding to bring devices such as Google Chromebooks into the classroom. And with forms of edtech becoming increasingly valuable, the adoption of technology in learning is likely to pick up more momentum.

But what does this mean for professional or work-based learning? In this article, we explore the potential challenges and solutions to digital transformation in the educational sector to outline its importance as well the enormous potential of adopting new, forward-thinking processes and mindsets.

Digital transformation in education: The challenges

​“The biggest impediment to a company’s future success is its past success.” - Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal

To understand how a full and sustainable digital transformation can take place, it's important to examine the potential challenges or roadblocks an institution might face. By understanding such issues it will be possible to overcome them.

1. A reluctance to adapt

At present. almost 70% of those operating in the public sector feel their digital capabilities fall behind the private sector. Despite this, many key decision-makers are reluctant to take those next all-important steps towards digital maturity.

Essentially, people tend to get used to doing things in a particular way and are reluctant to step outside their comfort zone, resulting in stunted growth and progress. When adapting to a new technology, culture or mindset, many in the education sector fear failure and seem reluctant to acquire new skill sets or processes.

Takeaway: To prevent this from happening, it's important to understand the benefits of digital transformation in education and communicate this to key stakeholders within the business. Understanding and communicating value is the key to success, so prioritizing this is essential.

2. Inferior knowledge or skills

Inferior knowledge or skills

To drive innovation, an adequate level of organization-wide confidence, knowledge and skills are essential. Currently, UK employers are struggling to fill 43% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) vacancies due to a widening digital skills gap.

To ensure a smooth and effective digital transformation, educational institutions must compete for a narrow pool of talent or adopt new approaches to upskilling current stakeholders in areas from UX and CX to cloud computing.

Takeaway: There is a digital skills gap and to benefit from the skills you need to drive your institution forward, fostering a culture of continuous learning within the business, upskilling your current staff will help you make the most of available talent.

3. Data silos

In this age rich in digital data there is a wealth of metrics that can offer colleges, universities and training providers insight into prospective learners, internal efficiencies, user interactions, and more. Put simply, this level of information is invaluable.

The problem is, in the educational sector especially, this data is siloed, often making it inaccurate and unreliable. To understand the most usable and information data, education leaders need to make informed predictions, integral business decisions and adopt new educational initiatives that matter, being able to receive fluid, timely, precise and organized data is vital.

Takeaway: By understanding the data that will benefit your data the most, you will be able to drill down into the insights that really matter, filtering out metrics that are redundant or lack value, while choosing the tools that will help you organize and analyze it correctly.

4. A lack of direction or strategy

 A lack of direction or strategy

With digital transformation in any sector or industry, one of the major roadblocks to success is knowing where to start. As the prospect of mass change can be daunting, understanding which direction to take or how to form a solid strategy can prove difficult.

Takeaway: To gain the direction and clarity needed to forge a strategy, identifying business models or processes that are not too simple or too convoluted, as well as the key efforts you'll need to make to transform them digitally, is a good place to start.

5. System-based compatibility

In today's world, the vast majority of businesses and institutions run on technology-driven systems and infrastructures to ensure a smooth and effective day to day operation.

An inherent challenge with digital transformation is that many systems that educational institutes adopt are not compatible with the new digital innovations required to drive them forward. This level of incompatibility results in a necessity to upgrade, customize or replace a current system to achieve integration, which ultimately costs time and money.

Upon realizing the necessity of digital transformation, Staffordshire University, based in Stoke-on-Trent upgraded the majority of its internal data infrastructure to the cloud, marking a significant milestone in the institution’s digital maturity. Not only has this significant shift made the University far more efficient, but this cloud transformation saved it a total of £4 million in tech-based avoidance costs.

Takeaway: Work in collaboration with all key stakeholders within the institution to decide on software and infrastructure budgets and make decisions on changes, replacements, customizations and upgrades that will drive the best long-term value.

Digital transformation in education: The solutions

“When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.” - George Westerman, Principal Research Scientist, MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy

Having identified the challenges associated with digital transformation within the sector, we will now explore the solutions available to educators.

  1. Develop a strategy

Any significant change or internal innovation starts with the development of a strategy that not only works in principle, but everyone within the organization understands and can work towards.

To create a solid digital transformation strategy for your organization, you must work collaboratively, identifying your core business aims and goals, as well as the technologies, methodologies and innovations you will need to achieve them.

Once you've done so, you will need to create a step by step plan of action and communicate this with all key stakeholders within the organization. For inspiration, consult our ultimate guide to IT & digital transformation.

2. Hire, train and invest in skills

Hire, train and invest in skills

As mentioned earlier, the digital skills gap is still quite significant the world over which means at present, the talent pool is scarce.

As an educational institution, it's your primary business goal to educate and upskill others so that they can thrive and succeed professionally. By adopting this approach internally, you will be able to implement a digitally-driven learning programme that will provide your staff with the skills to evolve their roles within the business and catalyze your digital transformation.

Also, investing in upskilling internally across departments, helping each team member to develop their confidence and knowledge while fostering departmental leaders will help drive the business in the best possible direction.

3. Integrate and leverage digital data

To extract maximum value from the enormous strands and silos of data collected in the educational sector, it's essential to be able to integrate and leverage your data sources seamlessly - understanding where each insight comes from and how it can benefit your institution.

To ensure the seamless flow and understanding of the colossal amounts of student-led data available to educational organizations, the x API and IMS Caliper standards have been implemented to ensure all data is processed in a standardized format.

And this year in particular, a growing number of data platforms have adopted such standards and are developing edtech tools that wrap intelligence around these insights - helping educational institutions to segment data and understand existing student behaviors to improve curriculums, processes and offer a greater level of personalization.

By taking the time to understand the areas of data that will prove most valuable to your institution and implementing the best tools in which to analyze these metrics, you will benefit from a wealth of insights that will help the ongoing evolution of your digital transformation.

4. Automate


On average, around 49% of companies across sectors are currently using automation, with more than half of B2B companies adopting the technology as part of their strategy.

In education especially, automation could improve invaluable to institutions looking to enhance their digital maturity. Notable time constraints and limited budgets can put a great deal of strain on the modern educational institution.

But, by implementing automated systems and technologies to assist with operational tasks from administration workflow management to computing and data collection, it will be possible to increase productivity exponentially with minimal infrastructure, driving down long-term costs and allowing you to place focus on more valuable efforts or activities.

5. Embrace the power of mobile

The millennial generation is hugely mobile focused, with 98% of 17 to 24-year-olds and 97% 25 to 34-year-olds said to own a smartphone.

To attract and inspire this important cohort, adopting a mobile mindset is critical or you will get left behind. Mobility is a necessity of the modern age, and if your prospective students cannot access the information or material they need in a flexible, portal format, your chances of offering them value will be minimized.

Mobile learning is an incredibly effective way to deliver value, but mobile-based developments don’t have to be limited to course material. Take the Michigan State University, for instance. Understanding that mental health affects a notable proportion of their student body, the institution developed a mobile application called iSee.

Michigan State University iSee app

This innovative development helps the campus’ stretched student councillors prioritize those in need and help offer better overall assistance and solutions to alumni in need of help by collecting critical data from the app.

As this is a relatively new app, precise data on its progress is yet to be divulged - but the cutting-edge initiative has been incredibly well received and is a testament to the power of mobile tech in the educational sector.

6. Experiment with emerging technologies

Most emerging technologies offer educators a wealth of potential opportunities - and by embracing new outlets, your institution and faculty stand to gain an huge amount from experimentation and adoption.

For example, cloud computing is one of the linchpins of digital transformation as cloud-delivered processes offer institutions increased mobility, insights, delivery speeds, process efficiency and cost optimization.

In the same vein as mobile, emerging trends including voice technology, artificial intelligence, VR, chatbots and machine learning are worth exploring as they will not only significantly enhance your marketing and user experience efforts, but also serve to make your organization more functional, efficient and cutting-edge.

To give prospective students a tangible taste of what life will be like on campus, Trinity University uses VR technology to take them on an immersive tour - an initiative that is being widely adopted in the educational sector:

7. Focus on digital citizenship

The notion of digital citizenship can be defined as 'the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community.'

By placing a strong focus on fostering digital citizenship amongst faculty and students by making it a core part of your internal culture, you will ensure that everyone is onboard, possessing the skills, tools and approach to drive your institution into the digital age.

In turn, this will help your college, university or training company to remain relevant and value-driven while offering your target audience the level and style of learning they want or need to succeed.

Encouraging digital citizenship will foster a culture where people are empowered to enjoy their roles collaboratively and autonomously, working as one cohesive entity to achieve the desired result - digital transformation.

By harnessing the power of technology to understand the needs of your institution as well as the needs, wants and preferences of your target audience - prospective students or learners - you will steer yourself on the right path towards digital maturity.

While it still may seem like a daunting prospect, digital transformation comes with a seemingly endless host of benefits, evolving with the zeitgeist, and if you want to thrive in tomorrow’s world, making changes today is crucial.

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